I had a realization today, sitting with the sea birds on a cliff of basalt, and the realization was this: every animal on this island looks like an old man. The blue-footed boobies look like bewildered old men who’ve just lost their spectacles. The sea lions hack and cough like ornery old men whose eyes are clouded by cataracts. The marine iguanas, with their leathery mouths set in grim lines, look geriatric and bitter. And then there are the giant tortoises; it requires no imagination to see that they are the most ancient of island grandfathers. Darwin called them “antediluvian animals.”
Maybe that’s why the swarms of elderly tourists arriving on boats down at the pier right now are so drawn to this place. Maybe they think to themselves, Hey, if these old guys can spend all day sprawled in the sand in a tropical paradise, then so can we!
I’m often unsure about why the tourists are here, and I didn’t expect that to be the case. I expected the visitors to be a bunch of biologically-inclined academics and students and birders running about with field guides in tow, Darwinians searching for every species of finch. And though this used to be a more accurate description of the tourists here, they’ve without a doubt become a less nerdy bunch. Every National Park guide I’ve talked has told me the same thing: people used to ask questions, eager to know everything about the natural history and biology of the islands and their wildlife, and now they hardly ask at all. Many tourists seem to be here just to check the famous destination off their travel bucket list. There are even creationist tour groups whose guides have sworn on the bible never to utter the dreaded “E” word. Why they choose, of all the archipelagos in the world in which they could more easily ignore the blaring evidence for the evolution of species by natural selection, a place called “the cradle of evolution,” I have no idea.
My hope for the Galapagos is that the rapidly expanding tourism industry does not transform it into what some of the Hawaiian islands have become, with skyscrapers and malls and development destroying fragile ecosystems. As tourism shifts from academic to recreational, it will be necessary to reevaluate the restrictions placed on it in order to preserve this paradise.
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Grace is a junior at Connecticut College with a major in botany. She grew up on the coast of Maine and looks forward to leaving its harsh winter for the equatorial Galapagos Islands. Grace’s interests include paleontology, backpacking, folk music, and fermented foods. Join her as she heads to Ecuador for the semester!</span></p>